800 Lashes for Ashraf Fayadh

Earlier today, a court in Abha, Saudi Arabia, announced that it has retracted its November 2015 death sentence for the poet Ashraf Fayadh and exchanged it for a sentence of eight years in prison and 800 lashes with a cane. He must also make a public statement of repentance.

This new sentence appears to switch his conviction from one of apostasy, or renouncing his religion, to one of blasphemy, insulting that religion and its leaders. According to the web site Arabic Literature (in English), the charge of “inappropriate relations with the opposite gender” still stands. These “relations” were photos of Fayadh standing next to women in art galleries at exhibitions he curated. The photos were in his cell phone and on his Instagram account because they were appropriate, not salacious, and not worth noticing. In Saudi Arabia’s strict Wahhabi form of Islam, however, this is inappropriate contact with the opposite gender and worthy of legal remedy.
Read More

More Saudi Youths Sentenced to Die

What is known is that as of today, October 19, ‪Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, a 20-year-old Saudi sentenced to death by beheading, has not been beheaded. His body has not been crucified and then displayed, which is also a horrifying part of his sentence. Because corporal and capital sentences are usually carried out on Fridays—after public prayers—dread accompanies the approach of each Friday for friends and family of those sentenced, and then with the absence of any word from Ali’s family, a tense non-relief follows. But he is not the only under-age prisoner in Saudi Arabia who has been sentenced to death by beheading.

The European Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR) has been publicizing three stories: Ali al-Nimr’s and those of Dawood Hussain Almarhoon and Abedallah al-Zaher. All three were arrested before they were 18 years of age, all three have been held in prison since the arrests (each young man was arrested in 2012), and all three have been almost certainly tortured.
Read More


This column was revisited one year later, in August 2016, here: “One Year Ago: A Public Torture.”

* * * *
The cane broke. Isn’t that all we need to know? The switch broke.

Raymond Johansen allowed himself to be tortured yesterday in solidarity with Saudi writer Raif Badawi. He was hit 50 times with a cane in Trafalgar Square, where public corporal punishments were once seen regularly but not since the 1830s. He had difficulty walking after and even expressed confusion as to where he was upon speaking with a reporter.

When a caning is administered it sometimes does not look as severe as one thinks a beating would look; even one of the words we use minimizes the severity: lashes. In writing about the Saudi Arabian writer Raif Badawi, who was sentenced last year to 1000 lashes and 10 years in prison, I have run into this weakness of language. All language is analogy, and I have wanted the analogy to convey the pain of judicial corporal punishment. Few do. Perhaps none do. Raymond Johansen’s action pumped life into the analogies.
Read More